Paul Woolard’s been building for this type of moment for six years.
The Lafayette coach took over a program in the throes of a decade-long futility streak. Nearly six full years later, Woolard and the Fighting Irish will play for a Midland Empire Conference title after Friday’s 47-0 blowout of Bishop LeBlond at Eagle Stadium.
Lafayette improved to 7-1 overall and 5-1 in league play.
The Irish host unbeaten Maryville next Friday with a chance to forge a tie atop the MEC standings. A win in either of the final two guaranteed contests, and Lafayette wins at least eight games for the first time since 1992.
Not bad work after inheriting a team with seven last-place finishes in the previous 10 years before Woolard arrived.
“This is what you play for,” he said, “since we’ve got to Lafayette, for it to come down to Week 9 where you have a shot at the conference championship, a shot for a good seed in districts. Can’t ask for much more than that.
“I just hope the boys are excited; I’m excited for them.”
Lafayette’s most recent victory closely followed the recent pattern.
At least one long Jurell Green touchdown run. Efficient quarterback play. A stingy defense. Green ran for touchdowns of 54 and 85 yards on consecutive carries early in the second quarter, and first-year sophomore starter Drew Cortez threw a pair of touchdown passes — both to emerging outside threat Cody Massey (20 and 8 yards).
Green ran for a score of 60 or more for the third time during Lafayette’s current four-game winning streak — three going for 80-plus.
Green’s 85-yard burst against LeBlond around the right end made it 34-0 Lafayette with 8 minutes, 24 seconds left in the first half. The run game continued to roll, and the Irish’s five-running back stable churned out 311 yards on only 24 carries. Six of Lafayette’s seven touchdowns accounted for 20 yards or more, including Tyler Burgess’ 71-yard punt return late in the third quarter with the running clock already in effect.
Green actually upped his yards-per-carry average from just under 12 to more than 13 with 201 yards on nine attempts.
The streak of big scoring plays could be in jeopardy against Maryville (8-0, 6-0), but Lafayette enters with loads of confidence built up since losing 21-14 against Savannah in Week 4.
“We’re gonna have a challenge,” said Green, now just 11 yards short of 1,000. “We’re not letting it get to us. We’re celebrating with each other and having joyful moments. But we’re working together, too, taking care of business, too.”
LeBlond (5-3, 3-3) fumbled twice on its first four possessions — one apiece for its two biggest starts, quarterback Matthew McCullough and running back Austin Dawkins.
The first came on the third play when Dawkins mishandled an exchange. Lafayette’s Kenny Grant fell on the loose ball, and four plays later, Cortez hit Massey for the first of their two scores. The Irish fumbled an exchange on their next possession — one of their two lost fumbles — but McCullough gave it right back on the next play after Lafayette knocked the ball loose on a quarterback keeper.
That set up Antwon Leonard’s 23-yard score and put LeBlond in a 14-0 hole.
The lone Class 2 school in the MEC, the Eagles lost for the third time to larger league competition and the second time to a Class 4 foe. They close next week with Class 4 Savannah, which dropped to 7-1 (5-1 MEC) after Friday’s loss to Maryville.
“When you play these Class 4 schools, it can be a benefit if you play the game correctly,” LeBlond coach Tony Dudik said. “We have lost one fumble this entire year, and we have two at the very beginning (of the game). You can’t do that against anybody, much less a team of their caliber.”
LeBlond remained off track from start to finish.
Lafayette held Dawkins to only 17 yards on his first 10 carries and 57 yards in the first half. He finished with 54 on 20 attempts.